Fans of Scottish soccer club, Celtic, waved the Palestinian flag during their team’s Champions League qualifying match with Israel’s Hapoel Beer Sheva on Wednesday, the ninth time the club’s fans have made a statement of defiance against UEFA’s ban on political expression in five years.
The not-so-warm welcome was followed by a defeat for Israel: Celtic FC won the match 5-2.
The mass action to show support for the Palestinian cause was organized via a Facebook group titled, “Fly the flag for Palestine, for Celtic, for Justice” which, according to the group, registered over 1,200 spectators
The group explained that the protest is opposed to the participation of Israeli teams, “who under UEFA’s own rules should not be allowed to participate in this competition due to the system of apartheid laws and practices including religious and ethnic-based colonization, military occupation and segregation of what remains of Palestinian land.”
The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) forbids political statement displays at football matches.
Prior to the showdown, fans had been warned that any political protest inside the stadium would result in repercussions from the governing authority, which could lead to fines or even Celtic Park stadium closure.
Scottish police urged fans not to bring Palestinian flags to the match, threatening them with arrest, the Daily Record reported
Under Scottish law anyone found guilty of inciting “hatred against a group of persons based on their membership (or presumed membership) of a group,” could be detained – a threat which fans deliberately defied.
Scottish fans went on to display Palestinian flags at the match, handed out prior to the game by “Palestine Alliance” activists.
In organizing the event the activists called on Celtic fans to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, and what the group called “Israeli apartheid, settler colonialism, and countless massacres of the Palestinian people.”
The activists also urged UEFA to join their cause and not support Israel and its policies saying on facebook: “When someone is representing Israeli state institutions it is sadly never merely a game; football, UEFA, and Celtic FC are being used to whitewash Israel’s true nature and give this rogue state an air of normality and acceptance it should not and cannot enjoy until its impunity ends and it is answerable to international law and faces sanctions for the countless UN resolutions it had breached.”
Celtic football club grew from Scotland’s marginalized Irish communities and it draws on struggles for social justice and workers’ rights in Glasgow.
Celtic fans have consistently taken a strong stance in support of Palestine. Two years ago, UEFA fined the club 16,000 pounds, more than US$20,000, after fans flew Palestinian flags during a game against Reykjavik.
Also in 2012 Celtic fans expressed solidarity with striking Palestinian hunger strikers by flashing banners and flags during another game